Conservative Christians are thrilled about Barrett’s nomination and the prospect it raises for them of overturning Roe v. Wade, but their views don’t align with the reality of what many American Christians believe. Barrett has called abortion “always immoral” and voted against abortion rights as a federal appeals court judge. She has cast doubt on stare decisis — the principle that justices should follow legal precedents set by previous decisions.
So far, the public debate about faith and Barrett’s nomination has focused on her controversial 1998 law review paper about Catholic judges recusing themselves from cases where the law conflicts with the Catholic Church’s teaching. While that’s an important topic, the discussion has obscured a more important aspect of her nomination: how her extreme legal views are rejected by American Christians overall. Over the past few decades, the loudest voices on the Christian right have largely come to represent what it means to be a Christian in the United States, but they shouldn’t be allowed to distort the actual views of people in the pews. Since the 2016 election, progressive Christians are increasingly stepping forward to insist on being heard in our national conversation.
Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri said Trump’s pick must believe Roe v. Wade was “wrongly decided” and that Barrett “meets that standard.” Marjorie Dannenfelser, a leading anti-abortion activist, said Barrett is “the perfect combination of brilliant jurist and a woman who brings the argument to the court that is potentially the contrary to the views of the sitting women justices.”
The reality about what the majority of American Christians believe about reproductive health care is far from how politicians and anti-abortion activists portray it. According to Pew Research Center, 59% of Christians do not want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v Wade. Barrett’s fellow Catholics are some of the most opposed to her conservative vision for the Supreme Court. They oppose overturning Roe v. Wade by a more than 2-to-1 margin.
Not only do most American Christians not want to overturn Roe v. Wade, many Christian denominations are part of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, an advocacy organization that supports abortion rights. “Most Christians are committed to upholding our God-given right to bodily autonomy, including our reproductive freedom, as essential to the abundant life that Jesus proclaimed,” the Rev. Katey Zeh, the group’s CEO and a Baptist minister, told me in reaction to Judge Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court. “The political anti-abortion movement weaponizes Christianity and does not value life; it values the power to control those living on the margins, the very ones that Jesus calls us to center.”
“What is at stake with Roe v Wade is the right to bodily autonomy for all women, and while Judge Barrett may disagree theologically with Roe v Wade, the Constitution does not authorize her to legislate her religious beliefs,” the Rev. Traci Blackmon told me in an email on Saturday. She’s the Associate General Minister of Justice & Local Church Ministries at the United Church of Christ, one of the founding members of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
Abortion is not the only issue where Judge Barrett’s views conflict with many American Christians. “Judge Barrett’s long expressed preference of constitutional interpretation toward originalism is understandably a matter of concern for those of us not equitably included in the ethos of the original document,” Rev. Blackmon wrote in reference to Black Americans, women, and other groups who were denied equality under the Constitution at our nation’s founding.
The most stinging rebuke of her nomination so far has come from Sister Simone Campbell, a leading voice for Catholics in Washington, DC. “I know that Judge Barrett shares my faith, but her past words and actions prove that she does not hold all life to be sacred,” Campbell wrote in a statement. “Catholics cannot support judges or politicians who blatantly ignore the breadth of Catholic Social Teaching on women’s rights, voting rights, immigrant’s rights, health care, environmental protections, and so much more.” Of particular concern is the Affordable Care Act, which Sister Simone Campbell’s group NETWORK lobbied for intensely. Barrett has criticized a previous Supreme Court decision to uphold the law and Democrats have made defending it a key part of their opposition to her nomination.
All of this comes on top of what Democrats are saying and many Americans believe is an illegitimate process to nominate Judge Barrett. “Having aggressively blocked the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland by former President Barack Obama, citing such nominations should not occur in the final year of a presidential term, elected officials who lack the integrity to honor their own stated convictions have far graver implications than any appointment,” Rev. Blackmon told me. Sister Simone Campbell called the nomination a “crass partisan power grab,” and “an insult to our democracy.”
If the Senate is going to go ahead and consider Judge Barrett, we need to at least be clear about what American Christians actually believe. Among many other concerns, the push to overturn Roe v. Wade at the heart of this confirmation battle is deeply unpopular not only for Americans in general but also for Christians.